India has cleared the way for construction to begin on a new 32,000-ton Air Defense Ship (basically a small carrier) at Cochin Shipyard Limited. The ship will have a ski-jump on the bow and an angled flight deck for landing. The shipyard says it will use modular construction to reduce building time from nine years to only six. The ship will carry 16 fixed-wing jet fighters and 20 assorted helicopters. After a last-minute conference, the ship was modified to operate aircraft up to the size of MiG-29s. The Indian Air Force operates the MiG-29 Fulcrum, and if India does buy the old Russian carrier Gorshkov it will operate the new naval version of the MiG-29. India's only carrier, the Viraat, is currently undergoing a two-year overhaul and refit at Bombay.--Stephen V Cole
Aircraft used by navies are one of those uniquely 20th century weapons. The earliest aircraft were fragile, and could not operate from ships. But that was not important, for the chief value of aircraft to navies was the ability to quickly scout large areas of open water. This took away the ancient ability of ships to lose themselves in the vastness of the oceans and seas. While most naval battles took place close to land, and usually near an important port, the ability of an enemy fleet to emerge unexpectedly from the sea was always a unique feature of naval operations. No more, or at least not as often, now that navies had aircraft. Aircraft carriers were built less than two decades after the Wright brothers made their first flight. By World War II, aircraft were robust enough to bomb the largest ships to destruction. For the rest of the century, aircraft carriers, and land based aircraft, have continued to determine how fleets would operate in wartime. The development of anti-ship missiles in the 1960s made it possible for any nation to dominate nearby waters.
Britain is studying the idea of fitting some Royal Navy Sea Harriers with improved 11-61 engines which have another 3,000 pounds of thrust. The current 104/106 engine loses so much power in hot-humid climates (e.g., in the Persian Gulf) that vertical landing cannot be done safely. Using the larger engine will require some changes to the fuselage.--Stephen V Cole